By Hrach Melkumian
Aleksandr Tkachov, the controversial governor of the Krasnodar Krai, visited Armenia on Thursday, assuring its leaders that he has put an end to periodical anti-Armenian riots in the southern Russian region.
Krasnodar has been the focal point of a series of attacks on Armenians living in Russia this year. Simmering tensions there rose last spring after Tkachov announced plans to expel hundreds of thousands of "illegal immigrants" from the Caucasus and Central Asia.
“There was not a conflict as such,” Tkachov told RFE/RL after meetings with President Robert Kocharian and leading Armenian parliamentarians. He said the violent incidents such as the vandalizing of the Armenian cemetery in the city of Krasnodar in April were mere “provocations” played up by the media.
The governor, who is affiliated with the Russian Communist Party, told Kocharian that his administration is simply bent on “regulating migration” in the region and is not playing the ethnic card for political aims, as was suggested by some Russian media. He also invited Kocharian to visit Krasnodar and examine the situation on the ground. The Armenian president accepted the invitation, according to his press service.
Armenian parliament deputies who met with Tkachov later in the day sounded satisfied with his assurances. Armen Rustamian, the parliamentary leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), said the Krasnodar leader has taken “extremely important” steps to ease inter-ethnic tensions there. “He believes that of all ethnic minorities the Armenians are the most integrated into the Krasnodar society,” Rustamian told RFE/RL.
According to the recent nationwide census in Russia, some 250,000 ethnic Armenians reside in the area north of the Caucasus Mountains. Tkachov believes that the real figure is higher. He complained on Thursday that many illegal Armenian immigrants engage in criminal activities.
While in Yerevan, Tkachov was accompanied by the deputy head of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration, Vladislav Surkov. His presence suggests that the government in Moscow shares Yerevan’s concerns about anti-Armenian sentiment in Russia.